Smartphone Guide Part 1: It’s All About Ecosystem

After much delay, SBT’s Smartphone Guide of 2014 is finally here! To make sure you are able to make an informed decision, I am breaking the guide into 3 parts. Part 1 will focus on ecosystem. Part 2 will be about big phones and Part 3 will be about “smaller” phones.

It’s finally November! Wait….its already November!! Wow! Time flies, especially in the tech world. A few years ago, it used to be all about how big your app store was. Nowadays, it moreso about an ecosystem. In the consumer technology world, an “ecosystem” consists of not just apps, but smartphones, smartwatches, computers, tablets, printers, accessories, and even cars. How your smartphone communicates with other devices matters just as much as how many apps are in your respective store. If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, this is something to take into consideration because it helps determines what other devices to buy in order to make the tech in your life work together. There are a lot of companies out there who have ecosystems but for our purposes, I’m going to focus on the “Big 3: Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Let’s get started!

Apple

You can’t talk about ecosystem without mentioning Apple. They’re top down approach to their products allow them to work together seamlessly. Apple designs both their hardware and the software that goes on their products unlike Google or Microsoft where they license out their software to third party manufacturers. You will never see iOS or Mac OSX on anything other than Apple hardware. Because of that, Apple has a lot of control over how their products work together. This starts with iCloud….

apple-ecosystem1

iCloud is Apple’s way to sync information across devices. For example, if you buy a song on your Mac, it’ll also show up on your iPhone or iPad. If you buy a movie on your iPad through iTunes, you can also it on your iMac and Apple TV. iCloud also allows you to sync settings, game progress, documents, movies, music, and apps across devices automagically.  If you’re a person who loves his/her Mac or iPad, then it would be advantageous to buy an iPhone because you’ll be able to sync things like apps across your devices.

If you have a Mac with the new OSX Yosemite, you’ll be able to take advantage of features like Continuity. According to Apple, “Make and receive phone calls without picking up your iPhone. Start an email, edit a document, or surf the web on one device and pick up where you left off on another”.  This is another feature that rewards people who buy Apple products. You can even receive texts on your Mac and I can say from experience from using Google Voice, texting on your computer is awesome.

Now Apple is primarily a hardware company. All of these neat features are ways to get people to buy hardware. The upside is that if anything happens, you can just go to an Apple Store to get it fixed. However, there in lies one of the drawbacks. If you fully invest in Apple’s ecosystem then it becomes hard to switch to another ecosystem, especially on the mobile side. If you buy all of your music, movies, and apps on iTunes but you decide you want to try out Android or Windows Phone, it can be daunting to have to re-purchase all of your content. Investing fully in Apple’s ecosystem makes it harder to switch to another ecosystem. However, without a doubt, Apple’s ecosystem is probably the most well rounded and comprehensive.

Google

google_ecosystem

Unlike Apple whose goal is to sell hardware, Google is all about services (Actually, Google is all about selling ads but it does all that through its services). Google’s ecosystem is a collection of services that all work using one single login. A lot of people already use Gmail, the Chrome browser, and Android so that’s a big part of the equation there. Google has a LOT of services including Google Drive which allows you to store basically everything, Google Docs/Sheets/Slides which allows you to create documents, slideshows, and spreadsheets (and also saves in Google Drive so you don’t have to worry about losing your work if your computer shuts down unexpectedly). There’s of course the Chrome browser and Android. The great thing about Chrome is that it allows you to open tabs on one devices and then look at those same tabs on another device. Chrome also syncs your extensions, bookmarks and settings across computers. There’s also Chrome OS, which is an operating system based on the Chrome browser that’s centered around doing things online and in the cloud. I actually own a Chromebook (HP Chromebook 14 to be exact) and it’s actually not that bad at all if 99% of what you do is through the browser. Android and Chrome OS are allow you to use Google’s services all in one place. As far as Android, you can use the Google Play store to buy movies, tv shows, music, and apps.

That’s not to say that Google doesn’t dabble in hardware. There is the Nexus line of devices such as the upcoming Nexus 6, Nexus 9, and Nexus player (all of which I talk about here) which is pure, unadulterated Android without any extra software or skins from manufacturers or wireless carriers. It’s basically the best of Google in one device (or devices).

The upside to Google’s ecosystem is that you can actually use it on almost any other device, including Windows or Apple products. You can download the Chrome browser on both iOS and Macs. In fact, you can use most, if not all, Google services on other devices. You aren’t tied to down to any specific device like you are with Apple. Even if you switched from Android to iPhone, you can still use all of Google’s services like Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Drive. The downside is that there isn’t much “talking” between mobile devices and desktops/laptops. There are no “Continuity like” features that allows Android to talk to Windows/Macs or even Chrome OS. There may be a 3rd party app that you can install on Android and Windows/Mac that gives some ability for the computer and smartphone to talk to each other somehow but no native communication from Google

Microsoft

WindowsPhoneAppsServices

Microsoft is in an interesting position. It’s been around a long time and a majority of computers are still running some version of Windows. However, since the advent of the iPhone and the subsequent rise of Android, Microsoft has been playing catchup in the smartphone wars ever since. That said, Microsoft has quietly developed an excellent ecosystem and leveraging their software expertise.

When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella first started, he talked about making Microsoft into a “mobile first, cloud first” company. In that sense, Microsoft is more like Google when it comes to ecosystem. It has a litany of services that can be used on different devices and computers. One of the most well known services that Microsoft offers is its’ Office productivity suite of applications. Office works on Windows, Macs, and iPhone, iPad, and even in the browser. Like Google Docs, you can use Word Online (as well as Powerpoint, Excel, and OneNote) to create documents. Like Apple’s iCloud and Google Drive, Microsoft has its own OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive). OneDrive is used to sync documents, pictures, movies, music…or anything really across your devices. On the mobile front, you have Windows Phone, an very elegant and functional mobile operating system that uses the same tile based UI as Windows 8. Of course, being a Microsoft OS, you can use Office right on the phone and save things to OneDrive. Let’s not forget about Xbox. Microsoft has been able to integrate services like OneDrive, Bing, and Internet Explorer on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Speaking of Xbox, there is the Xbox Music and Xbox Video stores that are used to buy music and movies/tv shows respectively.

This year, Microsoft unveiled their vision for the future with Universal Apps. Universal Apps are applications that can be ran on the desktop, smartphone, tablet, or even Xbox One. Microsoft is trying to streamline Windows into a “one OS, many devices” thing where you get a similar experience no matter what device you’re on.

Earlier this year, Microsoft bought Nokia’s smartphone division and will soon design their own smartphones just like Apple. Microsoft already makes its own laptop/tablet hybrid called the Surface and adding a smartphone will only solidify the “one OS, many devices” mantra. If Microsoft is able to pull this off, it will definitely be a game changer in how your devices work together and will be a compelling reason to buy into the Microsoft ecosystem.

Wrap Up

So there you have it. The three main mobile ecosystems. Which ecosystem to choose depends largely on what your personal preferences and workflows are. If you love your Mac then getting an iPhone will be a wise investment because of the interoperability between Apple devices. If you’re into Google’s services, Android is a good investment because of how well it combines all of Google into one. If you’re a Windows user, Microsoft will soon provide a compelling reason to stay in their ecosystem with the Universal Apps and unified Windows platform. In either case, it’s a great day to be a techie! Stay tuned for Part 2 well I will tell you my top smartphones for people with big hands (or if you just like big phones). Feel free to share this and please like my Facebook page!

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